'I can't imagine life without him': Pat Stanton pays tribute to Jimmy O'Rourke after Hibs legend dies aged 76

It was a day Hibs had little to complain about as they wrote their names into the history books with a New Year’s Day trouncing of city rivals Hearts.

Hibs defender Pat Stanton (left) praises goal hero Jimmy O'Rourke after scoring the opening strike against Hearts in 1973.
Hibs defender Pat Stanton (left) praises goal hero Jimmy O'Rourke after scoring the opening strike against Hearts in 1973.

Eddie Turnbull’s men needed to win by at least six goals to go top of the league and on that first day of 1973, they went one better. But Pat Stanton remembers being denied his opportunity to make it onto the scoresheet.

“It was already 5-0 by half-time and Eddie had told us to go out and start again. Half-time often makes it a different game and sometimes you don’t pick up the same way. Hearts did come back into it, which was to be expected because the game was at Tynecastle, but we scored another two in the second half. Alan Gordon got one and I got one, well I would have,” he says, with a well-rehearsed degree of mirth.

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“I went through and had a shot and I am sure it was going over the line but my best pal appeared and got the last touch. He stuck it in the net. I said to him: ‘Some friend you turned out to be!’ He just looked at me and he didn’t even smile. Like I said, I was sure it would have ended up a goal but he was making sure.”

O'Rourke slides in to make it 6-0 to Hibs in the 1973 derby against Hearts - taking the goal off Stanton.

Not even that tested a friendship that has spanned a lifetime.

News that Jimmy O’Rourke, the 76 year-old Hibs legend, had died in the morning of Tuesday, November 15, hit many people hard – family and friends but also team-mates and fans.

Stanton could be counted in all categories. The pair attended Holy Cross Academy together and that is where their lifelong friendship sparked into life but the years spent as team-mates and room-mates at Hibs added greater depth to the relationship.

“I can’t imagine life without him. He will be a big miss. He was really funny, really likeable.”

O'Rourke passed away at the age of 76 on Tuesday in Edinburgh.

Thanks to his professionalism and respect, even when thrashing opponents, that sentiment extended beyond the boundaries of Easter Road.

A great pal, a highly-regarded and hugely-appreciated team-mate and mentor to many, he was also an enthralling storyteller and amusing company but on the pitch he was a no-nonsense winner.

O'Rourke played at Easter Road from 1962-74, making his debut against Utrecht in the Fairs Cup, aged just 16, having only been informed by then manager Walter Galbraith of his call-up that afternoon

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A bustling forward, with a keen eye for goal, he hit the bar that night but made amends three days later when he opened his account against Dunfermline to become the youngest player to score for Hibs – aged 16 and 88 days – a record he still holds. He went on to amass a tally of 122 goals in 325 appearances and is ranked ninth in Hibs’ all-time scorers chart.

Among those goals were European hat-tricks, the winner in the 1972 League Cup final – his pal Stanton notched the other in that 2-1 victory to end a seven-decade wait for major silverware – and then there was his input on January 1, 1973, when he opened the scoring with a left-foot shot before going on to add a second by helping his mates effort into the net.

Those big moments made him a household name but they didn’t define him as a player or a man, claims Stanton. It was the effort he put in every day, in training and in matches that did that.

He saw what it meant for O’Rourke, who was born and raised a Hibbie, to pull on the green and white in every game and run out in front of the fans he had stood among at Easter Road. He had been there from the outset and watched as he broke into a struggling team and uphold his standards and demand more from others.

“It was a dream come true for him to play for the Hibs. he was steeped in the club and anyone who joined when Jimmy O’Rourke was there soon realised that there were no half measures.

Every game was a cup final. Jimmy didn’t do friendlies, not even in training. He was wonderful company and liked a laugh but playing for Hibs was serious business to him.

“There were Mondays when you went into training after an indifferent performance and he would practically ignore you and if he did talk he was a bit short. It was because he was still annoyed by the performance on the Saturday. But that was him, he was a winner.”

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On overseas trips the pals from Holy Cross Academy were more than team-mates, they were room-mates, too.

“Let’s just say he wasn’t very tidy but he was great company. We went to Canada, the United States and South Africa and we would say, ‘isn’t this something for a couple of young lads from Holy Cross’, and when we got back Jimmy would tell all the stories.”

The openness and willingness to share his experience and his knowledge with team-mates, especially youngsters coming through the ranks, made him a superb team-mate, according to Stanton.

That was why, after spells at St Johnstone and Motherwell, Eddie Turnbull lured him back to his footballing home as an assistant coach.

“Even when he was young Jimmy was always knowledgeable about football and as he got older he would pass that on to the younger players,” recalls Stanton. “A lot of good players would like to pass on ideas but don’t know how to. Jimmy did. He could relate to being that young player and he knew how to get things across to them. He would take part in training games long after he had stopped playing and he showed them good habits.”

O’Rourke will be remembered as a Hibs legend for many reasons but, principally, according to his pal, because he never forgot he was living the dream.

“Yeah, he will be really missed. Really missed.”